Shocking photo revealed of American pilgrim walking in Italy


Day 14: Santhià to Vercelli — 27.1 km (16.8 miles)

As we entered the endless rice fields today I caught a whiff of a surprising smell. The rice fields smell like, well, rice. When you lift the lid of a pan of boiling rice — that smell? That’s what today smelled like.

I’d spent the night at the Santhià hostel with Charles and a new Italian pilgrim friend, Antonio. This morning at about 7:15 we rolled out of our beds, headed to the nearby cafe, crossed the overpass above the train tracks, and headed into the endless and aromatic rice fields. The map shows a highway that goes straight as an arrow between our starting and ending points, but our trajectory instead was a zigzag of rice canal pathways, multiplying by at least 50% the walk’s minimum length.

Mid-morning included the day’s one village — San Germano — and the server at the local bar there made us panini for our packs. A few kilometers afterward we were able to spy the spires of Vercelli on the horizon, though it would take another three hours through the rice fields to get us there.

While we walked, another drama was playing out on Facebook. A few weeks ago I heard a report of an American pilgrim who was accosted by a man who committed non-violent but lewd acts in her presence while she walked on the Via di Francesco near Rieti (a few hundred miles from here). Along with other pilgrim leaders I strategized how to get the local police to take the case seriously. Another pilgrim friend had met the man, shouted at him and had taken his photo, including the license plate of his car. Over the last couple of days the photo was shared widely on Facebook, and stories of other women’s encounters with the same man — stretching back an unbelievable two years — quickly appeared as comments on my post. Finally today the story was picked up on local news, local TV and this afternoon on a Italian national news website. We are hoping this press exposure will finally get the attention of the police and convince them to get this man the help he needs –and get him off the pathways of that sacred and beautiful walk.

Finally the rice fields ended and the town of Vercelli appeared before us. We found the night’s hostel, said goodbye to Antonio who’s heading back to Milan, showered up, snapped a shocking photo of me sporting more hair on my chin than on my head, and went out to explore the town. Tomorrow: add more rice, rinse and repeat.

Hiking Notes: in this heat an umbrella would be nice. The pharmacy thermometer read 39c when we came into town. Antonio insisted that was impossible. It seems difficult to get quite enough water down each day.

This artistic photo from the train overpass in Santhià is just waiting to be discovered by an art dealer or historian. 

The most elaborate of the many irrigational canal bridges. 

San Germano church facade. 

Antonio and Charles ahead. 

Charles. 

Rice. 

Imported workers in the rice fields?

Sr. Cavour, after whom this piazza in Vercelli is named. 

Shocking. A few days ago, in Aosta, I asked the barber to take it all off. He did. Since then no razor has touched my head. 

Corn fields as far as the eye can see

Day 13: Ivrea to Santhià — 34.8 km (21.6 miles)

I have to give it to Morgan and Roberto. They didn’t snore at all. Our whole night long in the hostel next to the river I heard nothing but the sound of the water. When I awoke at 6:30, I was delighted to have slept the night through. Probably my best night’s sleep on this pilgrim walk.

By 7:00 I was up and out the door, reveling in the early start. Since today is 15 August, the national holiday that kicks off summer break, the streets were eerily quiet and every cafe was closed. This was a bad sign since I’d be relying on open cafes for food all day long.

Again I opted for the bicycle route and had a good payoff. At Piverone I stopped to enjoy a shaded bench and Charles appeared from the same direction I’d just come. He had left 15 minutes earlier, but I’d arrived in Piverone 15 minutes before him, thanks to the bike track.

Charles and I then walked the rest of the day together, first along the gentle hillsides overlooking Lago Viverone, then down in the cornfields before Santhià. I enjoyed watching Charles sweet talk two donkeys, who heehawed loudly for him as he called out, then came to the fence to share their hellos.

By 2:00, Charles and I were both feeling the effects of the heat. He was guessing the temperatures were in the 35c range (95f), and the sun seemed to draw out all the energy from each of us. The long itinerary for today kept us in the cornfields until about 4:00, when we finally arrived at the hostel in this little farm town.

Hiking Notes: I kept to the alternate itinerary today, not the bike path but the variant that sticks to the lower elevations. It worked out well. The hostel in Santhià is a nice refuge. This was a good day.

Our Ivrea hostel was the building on the river at the far left.

Piverone. I think.

Charles charms the donkey.

Corn.

Church at the heart of Santhià.